Here are the Indigenous issues that were ignored during the 2019 leaders debate


Federal political party leaders Elizabeth May (from left), Justin Trudeau, Andrew Scheer, Maxime Bernier, Yves-François Blanchet and Jagmeet Singh at the Oct. 7, 2019, English-language debate in Ottawa. Photo by Justin Tang/Canadian Press

It took eight minutes for leaders gathered for the first and only commissioned English-language debate of the 2019 election campaign to make a reference to Indigenous people.

The reference was made by Green Leader Elizabeth May, who noted that before answering an audience member’s question, she wanted “to start by acknowledging that we’re on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people, and to them, miigwetch.”

Twenty minutes of the Oct. 7 debate were allocated to a discussion about Indigenous issues among all six Canadian federal leaders vying for control of the country’s top office. But as quickly as this segment began, it derailed into a haphazard conversation about pipelines, Quebec and climate change, none of which were discussed constructively, or at all, in the context of Indigenous Peoples.

The segment was moderated by Toronto Star columnist Susan Delacourt, who posed the first question to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer about his proposed energy corridor: “Practically speaking, how will you consult, accommodate and obtain consent from Indigenous Peoples, and what will you do when your plans come into conflict with Indigenous rights and interests?”

Scheer prefaced his remarks by noting he is “someone who has 12 First Nations reserves in his riding” before speaking of the importance of balancing treaty rights with a path to economic prosperity for Indigenous groups.

He promised a “dynamic” consultation process, but failed to mention the Conservative platform has no dedicated section on Indigenous issues.

Twenty minutes of the Oct 7 debate were allocated for a discussion about Indigenous issues among all six leaders. But as quickly as this segment began, it derailed into a haphazard conversation about pipelines, Quebec and climate change.

Scheer was also one of two leaders onstage (People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier was the second) who did not openly state a willingness and commitment to adopt the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into Canadian law. He demanded, instead, more clarity on the right of “free, prior and informed consent” in relation to energy projects and more.

But all leaders, not just those heading the right-of-centre parties, failed to reckon with Indigenous voters’ concerns.

In June, the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls found Canada to be guilty of both historic and ongoing genocide. Yet on Monday night, no leader mentioned the term “genocide,” despite being asked about how they would each work with provinces to adopt the recommendations of the MMIWG inquiry.

No leader other than Scheer mentioned the calls to action recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report, despite also being asked how they would implement them.

The fact is, of the 20 minutes allocated, much was spent on back-and-forth offensive exchanges between the leaders that were completely off-topic or not grounded in the betterment of life for Indigenous Peoples. As NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said about Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Scheer, it became more of a debate about “who is worse.” MORE